A strategy to double Nuuk’s population begins with a new housing district

By Kevin McGwin, The Arctic Journal - February 9, 2017
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The proposed new Siorarsiorfik neighborhood in Nuuk would be able to house 5,000 people. (Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq)
The proposed new Siorarsiorfik neighborhood in Nuuk would be able to house 5,000 people. (Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq)

Even its detractors admit that Nuuk is the most important city in Greenland. Politically, culturally and commercially, it is the national centre of gravity. Home to 17,000 people, it is also far and away the country’s largest populated place.

City lawmakers expect Nuuk’s pull will only grow in the years to come; an airport extension and a new port will make travel and trade easier, which will create jobs. The nascent mining industry is also expected to place its white-collar functions in the capital.

Currently, Nuuk accounts for 30 percent of the country’s total population. Improving the city’s economic prospects, bullish councillors reckon, this could reach 50 percent by 2030.

Official growth projections, prepared by Kalaallit Nunaanni Naatsorsueqqissaartarfik, the national statistics bureau, already forecast the city’s population will grow to 22,000 by 2031. The lower figure, bean-counters underscore, is based solely on current population trends, and does not take into account unforeseen initiatives.

Lawmakers admit their target is a political goal, but say the current growth rate of between 500 and 800 residents annually can be sped up if there is work for people to do and a place for them to live.

Some of the extra growth Nuuk’s politicians are looking to attract will come by drawing people from other parts of the country. Other new residents, hopes Asii Chemnitz Narup, the mayor, will be foreigners coming to work for firms that set up shop in Greenland.

The most attractive pool of population growth the city would like to tap into is Greenlanders currently living abroad. Most often lured away for education, many choose to stay away to work. Others, though, are kept there by a tight housing market at home. The way to get them back, councillors believe, is a 1,200-unit housing development, complete with waterfront view.

Unveiled Tuesday, the proposed Siorarsiorfik neighborhood would be able to house 5,000 people. Once the construction is completed, an adjacent site will be accessible for a second development.

This will be necessary if Nuuk is to live up to its goal of building the 15,000 housing units it will take to make room for newcomers and ease the existing housing crunch. In addition to new developments, the city council will also build new housing units in older parts of the city.

The initial price estimate for the project, which includes a kilometre-long tunnel linking Siorarsiorfik with an existing, newish housing development that is nearing full capacity, will be as much as 5 billion kroner ($720 million). Much of this will be financed by private firms that will recoup their investment by renting properties back to the city.

If modern housing with a view is too little to entice expats to return home, the city council is trying to make the transition a little easier: it also plans to build a new national gallery and a covered outdoor football pitch that will serve as a national stadium.

A final decision on whether to build the development will be made after local elections are held on April 4. If approved, construction would start in 2018 and would take up to eight years to complete.